Overcoming new challenges and obstacles is just par for the course for a student-athlete. The truly great ones understand and embrace that mentality, using the skills learned through adversity to better themselves and their teams. Four former Golden Eagle student-athletes were pillars of that belief throughout their respective careers and for that, and so much more, have been selected as members of the 46th class for induction into the Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
This year's class includes A.J. Kirby-Jones (baseball), Stephanie Place (women's cross country/track & field), Thomas Squires (football) and Borja Zarco (men's tennis).
"The list of candidates eligible and nominated for the TTU Sports Hall of Fame continues to grow each year and leaves our committee with an incredibly challenging task in selecting a class," Tech director of athletics Mark Wilson said. "This year was no different, and for our committee to navigate the added challenges of doing so during a global pandemic shows just how seriously they take this assignment. The 46th Hall of Fame Class consists of four outstanding former student-athletes who not only made long-standing impacts for their respective programs, but also were excellent ambassadors for the University with their commitment to their education and the Cookeville community."
Due to ongoing factors surrounding COVID-19, there will be no TTU Sports Hall of Fame banquet this year. The 2020 Hall of Fame Class will be recognized with video presentations at select Golden Eagle basketball games during the 2020-21 season. The 46th class of the TTU Sports Hall of Fame will be honored and officially inducted jointly with the 47th class during the 2021 Hall of Fame banquet as part of Homecoming Weekend. Dates for the 2021 Hall of Fame banquet will be set at a later time.
The Class of 2020 includes:
A.J. Kirby-Jones | Baseball | 2008-10
For three seasons, Kirby-Jones terrorized opposing pitchers while establishing himself as one of the best power bats in the history of Tennessee Tech and Ohio Valley Conference history. A six-time All-American, he broke more than 15 program records and multiple league marks while leading the Golden Eagles to a pair of OVC titles, including the 2009 tournament crown and the 2010 regular-season championship. Overall, the Knoxville native slashed .347/.470/.686 during his career, setting Tech records for home runs (51), RBI (190), slugging percentage (.686), total bases (409), intentional walks (18), multi-hit games (62) and multi-home run games (six). The slugger spent more than four years in minor league baseball, playing for the Oakland A's organization for three seasons before being traded to the San Diego Padres organization. He finished his career with the Atlanta Braves organization. Following his time in professional baseball, Kirby-Jones returned to Tennessee Tech to serve as a student assistant coach for Matt Bragga during the 2016 season. During his one year on staff, he earned his bachelor's degree from Tech in marketing.
"I would like to thank the Hall of Fame committee for this honor. This University means a lot to me and I feel very honored for this selection. I could not have accomplished what I did during my time at Tech without the help of my family, coaches, teammates and the entire athletic department pushing me to be the best I could be. I also want to thank Coach Bragga and Coach Cole for the opportunity to join this baseball program. Coming out of high school, Tech was the only school to give me a scholarship offer. I was fortunate enough to be a part of some great teams that won two conference championships while building lifelong friendships that I still cherish to this day."
Stephanie Place | Women's Cross Country/Track & Field | 2005-10
Very few individuals have made a bigger mark on a single program during their Tech careers than Place. A four-year member of the women's cross country and track & field teams from 2005-2010, she rewrote the record books as a distance runner. At the conclusion of her cross country career in 2008, Place owned the top 11 times in program history for the 5K, times that stood for nearly eight years. Her top time still ranks seventh to this day. In 2008, Place became the first Golden Eagle to win the OVC Championship, claiming Female Runner of the Year and Female Athlete of the Championship honors. She owned the top-three finishes in program history at the OVC Championships when she called it a career and still owns three of the top four. She earned a place on the All-OVC First Team in 2006, 2007 and 2008. On the track, she claimed OVC individual medalist honors in the 3,000-meter run in 2009 and in the 10,000-meter run in 2010. She broke five records between the indoor and outdoor seasons, including as a member of the OVC medalist Distance Medley Relay team in 2009. Place earned her nursing degree from Tech in 2009.
"I feel incredibly honored to be recognized by the Hall of Fame committee. I am so thankful to the TTU Athletic Department, Coach Cox and my teammates for such a wonderful experience during my time at the University."
Thomas Squires | Football | 1985-87
Squires only saw action for two seasons in the Tech Purple and Gold, but there's no question the Merritt, N.C. native made an impact. A JUCO All-American in his days at Chowan Junior College (now Chowan University on the NCAA Division II level), Squires came to Cookeville for the 1985 season and by the end of 1987 had walked away with two All-American honors as a Golden Eagle. After compiling 112 tackles (second on the team in 1985), two sacks, 11 tackles-for-loss, a fumble recovery, two forced fumbles, four pass deflections and one blocked kick, Squires was forced to sit out the 1986 campaign due to a shoulder injury. He returned in full force in 1987, compiling a team-high 136 stops (the sixth-best total in program history at the time), five sacks, nine tackles-for-loss, a forced fumble, two interceptions and 10 pass break-ups. Following the 1988 NFL Draft, Squires signed as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints. He returned to campus and earned his bachelor's degree in health and physical education in 1990.
"It's an honor to be selected for the TTU Sports Hall of Fame. I truly never expected to achieve this humbling milestone in my career. I do so knowing that it is due to the sacrifices and hard work of my teammates and the individuals who came before me. I want to thank the Hall of Fame committee for bestowing this honor upon me."
Borja Zarco | Men's Tennis | 2005-08
One of the best to ever throw on the purple and gold, Zarco's name is prominently draped throughout the Tech tennis record books. Highlighted by his OVC Player of the Year campaign in 2008, he secured All-OVC First Team honors in each of his final three seasons as a Golden Eagle. Zarco's 79 career singles wins are good enough for third-most on the all-time TTU list and were second-most at the time of his graduation in 2008. His 2008 OVC Player of the Year campaign will go down as one of the best ever in school history. His 27-4 singles record ranks as the third-highest winning percentage in a single season in program history with a .871 clip. His 27 wins are the fourth-most in a single season while his 44 combined victories that year are also fourth-most in one season in school history. With Zarco atop the lineup for much of his career, TTU claimed OVC regular-season titles in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and the OVC Tournament crown in 2006. He also made program history in 2008, becoming the first Golden Eagle to ever participate in the NCAA Division I singles championships. Zarco graduated from Tech in 2009 with a degree in civil engineering.
"It is an honor to be inducted into the TTU Sports Hall of Fame. My years competing as a Golden Eagle are among my fondest memories and Cookeville will always feel like home. Tech gave me the opportunity to pursue an excellent education while competing at the highest level, and that helped shape who I am today. For that and much more, I am forever grateful."